The mentor’s dilemma: tips for assessing “soft” competencies in Competency-Based Theological Education (CBTE)

Note: This article, written by Ruth McGillivray, was originally published in the July 2018 edition of the ATS magazine Colloquy

Kyle is a theology professor at a seminary that has recently implemented a competency-based MDiv program. He has a decade of experience teaching traditional, semester-based courses at the post-secondary level, and another decade taking them. But his role in this new program is different. Instead of teaching courses in his specialty area to a new group of students each term, he’s now the academic advisor on a cross-functional mentor team guiding one student through her whole degree. Not only does he also evaluate how well she articulates understanding and critical thinking on theological concepts, but he also looks at how she applies them in her daily life and work. In addition, he’s responsible to oversee her development in disciplines outside his specialty and assess whether or not she has mastered competencies like humility, faith, hope, and culture.

This presents a dilemma for Kyle, as well as for the ministry and practitioner mentors on his three-person team. Each has an individual sense of what it means to be humble or have hope, but how do they articulate what mastery of humility or hope looks like for assessment purposes? To complicate things further, Kyle oversees two other students in this new program and, in that capacity, is on three different mentor teams. Even if one team reaches consensus on what mastery looks like, he has to navigate the same waters with the other two teams. How does he assess his three students consistently if each team arrives at a different definition?

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